Third World Architecture: Part II


After thinking a lot about my last post on third world architecture, I wanted to write up some examples that can argue better than I could:

Darfur is home to over two and a half million homeless people, which is staggering when you think about it. In one refugee camp, I found a group that designed a pretty amazing and creative solution that helped thousands of refugees. The government would not allow any permanent structures to be built in the camp, so the group BOLD (Building Opportunities & Livelihoods in Darfur) found a different solution that could address multiple problems at once. They started a program that employed over 3,000 refugees in one camp (where grass was plentiful) to weave grass mats that were then sold for a small profit to a camp in North Darfur (where grass was not readily available).  These mats were then used with bamboo stakes to construct shelters for the refugees.  This program was made possible by understanding all of the material, economic, and social variables that existed and by designing a solution taking all of these variables into account.

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Third World Architecture: Part I

A simple Google search would tell you that more than 100 million people in this world are homeless. With a little more digging, you could find that close to 1 billion people (close to 1 in 7) lack suitable housing. And with just a little more digging, you could start to find people who are working to change that number.  There are tons of non-profit groups, government organizations, and individuals from around the world struggle to develop new ways of housing the homeless. But what about architects? I hear the word “housing” and expect to see it followed by “architect.” But in discussions of the developing world, it rarely is.

At first glance, architects may not seem like the right choice to solve this problem. Don’t architects only build fancy buildings that have no real relevance to the third world? The third world does not need skyscrapers. Why is it not the engineers who are building houses? After all, they are the ones who have the structural and material understanding that the developing world needs. They know how to build a house, and they can build it efficiently and economically. So why architects?

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Zarathustra meets Architecture

There are many ways of categorizing architectural styles. One way is to use a spectrum on which one end there lies a kind governed by logic; one that is practical, realistic, engineering, systematic, sustainable. On the other lies one of emotion; the abstract, artistic, sublime. In our society, most architecture contains both to varying degrees. But it is important to remember that beauty is not found in the combination of both, but in the relative balance of the two.

I argue to all architecture students to be careful when they design. We are always told by society to “step outside the box.” The goal is always to be innovative and forward-thinking. But when the student asks about innovation, he or she is pointed to the starchitects; to an iconic, superficial architecture dominated by fluff.  To the layperson, “outside the box” is defined as flashy, rendered innovation with expensive materials and a stress of form over detail, of quantity over quality, breadth over depth. It is a box that is defined and governed by values found in our modern society. It is a box where speed, efficiency, and money are valued above emotion, beauty, and art.

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Italy in Technicolor


Here are a few unedited color photos chosen out of thousands from my semester in Italy last year. My post yesterday was in part inspired by my browsing through these photos. I am not a great photographer, but I do try to dabble occasionally. Of course, the best part of photography is working to improve, and luckily for me, I have a long way to go.


Photography is a very different medium than most others.  It is produced almost entirely by the efforts of technology, with the user only taking part in manipulation.  It engages a much different skill set than many other traditional forms.  And, perhaps because of their technological roots, photos represent the world we live in a very calculated and objective way.  Because of this close relationship to physical reality, one would think that art would be cast aside.  But that is far from the truth.

Art is found through photography in the way the photographer manipulates the photo.  Art exists in photography through subtlety.  And as often happens in art, this subtlety rests on a knife’s edge of abstraction and precision.  But the irony is often that good photography is at odds with the very essence of photography itself.  Good photography is not objective.  Good photography is subjective, as is all art.  Not necessarily a provocative kind of subjectivity, but rather a natural subjectivity.  The kind that speaks.  In a way, it is this juxtaposition of a very objective medium and a very subjective photographer that can produce good photography.

For me, this is the beauty of photography.  It is the beauty of art itself.  It is its essence.  It is what I struggle with, obsess over, and dream about.  But of course it is worth it because in the end you have produced something that has a part of you in it, and there is not much that I find more satisfying than that.

Bike Repair


Like most Bostonians, I tend to ride bikes.  Biking is an amazing way to get around, be outdoors, and be a part of a community.  As you find yourself biking more and more, you tend to refine the relationship between yourself and your bike, which is when things start to change.  You might begin to catch yourself wondering what kind of handlebars are right, drop or commuter?  Or you find yourself arguing over the pros and cons of fixed gear vs. single speed.  Or you somehow know the names of everyone at your local bike shop.  Fortunately, you are not alone – there is an amazing community out there to help.

As you bike more, you will undoubtedly learn a little bit about your bike.  If nothing else, you will at least learn to change a tire.  But the more adventurous may start to learn the in’s and out’s of their bike.  Bike building and repairing is both meditative and inspiring. When you work hard to gain a complete understanding of something, I always feel that you find an incredible feeling of satisfaction.  This certainly holds true for bikes.

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Watercolors: Sketchbook, August 2009


Some paintings I did in Moosehead Lake, Maine over the summer.

DIY Still


Because Nirav, Chris and I are all interested in anything DIY, we wanted to try out making our own homemade still. There are countless versions and variations scattered throughout the internet, and we tried to choose some of the best ideas and modify them to our own needs. There are a number of characteristics that we wanted it to have. First, we wanted it to be a pot still because we understood the mechanics and principles behind them. The downside of a pot still is the near complete lack of reflux – meaning that you will end up with less pure alcohol, which tends to be fine for rum where you want some extra flavors, but is not so good for vodka for example, where you want it to be as pure as possible. Second, it had to be small and adaptable enough to use indoors on a standard kitchen stove instead of a clunky propane stove that you have to use outside. Third, it had to be relatively cheap. And fourth, it had to be easy to make.

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DIY Watercolor Sketchbooks


For my trip to Spain and France, I made two sketchbooks from scratch.  All it took was some $4 large format sheets of 140lb watercolor paper I picked up at Utrecht, a 4-ply sheet of black museum board for the front and back covers, and my old office’s binding machine with some bronze-colored coils.  I cut the sheets to 24 pages at 7″x9.75″ and the museum board covers to 7″x10″ so that the pages have some extra protection on the ends.  The result was a lightweight, durable, cheap, and pretty handsome sketchbook.  The advantage, besides being half the price, is that I could choose the size, number of pages, and kind of paper that I made it out of.  Plus you get the satisfaction of making it yourself.

Watercolors: Sketchbook, June and July 2009


Here are some watercolors from a trip I took this summer to Spain and France. Most were quick 10-15 minute sketches done on site.

© 2011